While many jobs at the College are predictable and patterned, there are some that go off of the beaten path. With the inherent unpredictability of sports, it is no surprise that Director of Athletics Jeff Ward has a different schedule each day. For Ward, days frequently start early and run late. Overtime can literally mean staying to watch the overtime period of a game—and this is one of the things he likes best.
"One of the real joys of my job is there is no regular day," Ward said. "Often, what I think the day is going to be when I get here is not what the day ends up being."
Though now in his 13th year in the position, each full of unexpected days, Ward came to the College with a strong background and a variety of experience.
A Dartmouth graduate and collegiate swimmer, Ward continued his involvement in the sport by working as an assistant coach at West Point following graduation. From West Point, Ward moved on to Columbia University, where he started the women's swimming program and coached it for eight years before switching Ivy League schools to work as assistant athletic director at Brown University. After eight years at Brown, Ward accepted the position here, where he has been since.
A weekly schedule for Ward depends on what time of the year it is, which coaches or teams require attention or have a problem to work out, as well as the status of any special projects taking place. Ward has "a certain number of standing meetings," ranging from some in the athletic department to other student affairs.
"One of the things that's kind of unique about athletics at Bowdoin is the degree to which we're connected to student affairs," Ward said. "The connection there is much stronger than it is at most places."
Ward notes that staying in touch with each team remains a top priority and one of the most important aspects of his job.
"I work very hard to try and stay connected to coaches and to students," Ward said. "We have 31 teams and over 600 athletes, so I'm never as successful at that as I would like to be."
For Ward, it is of utmost importance that any incoming coaches mesh with the existing staff and student athletes as well as the ideals of the College. During the hiring process, Ward meets with candidates and gauges their character in addition to their talent.
"I believe that talking to people face to face and getting a sense of them from the interview is important," he said. "You can only see so much on paper. There's a certain fit to being at Bowdoin," he added.
Constant involvement with coaches, from the hiring process to everyday conversations, is a key component of a successful athletic department. Ward believes that making the coaches' jobs easier and being available as a sounding board facilitates the process of team building.
"You can have a great athletic department with a mediocre athletic director, but you can't have a great athletic department with mediocre coaches," Ward said. "They're really the heart and soul of the thing."
The other integral component of the athletic department is, of course, the student athletes—another top priority for Ward. Besides making a point of attending games throughout the week, Ward also makes time to have dinner with all of the sophomore athletes in groups throughout the year in an attempt to get to know them.
Ward believes this can foster a connection and a sense of trust between students and the athletic department.
"There can be real disconnects, I think, between the administration and the students," Ward said. "People who work at Bowdoin are ultimately here because of students, but we can't just assume people know that."
Students, however, certainly seem aware of Ward's presence on campus, whether it be at games, in the student union, or in the fitness center.
"I see him a lot, at the gym, walking around campus and at dinner," said Al Milley '13, a member of the men's ice hockey team. "He's definitely involved and every sophomore athlete has dinner with him at some point."
Kaitlin Donahoe '13, of the women's basketball team, has been impressed by the support Ward offers the team.
"For anything we've ever needed as a team, he's right there and willing to help," Donahoe said. "He's really working to get the students involved in different paths of life on campus."
These day-to-day responsibilities are supplemented by myriad other responsibilities, from hiring to fundraising. Upcoming responsibilities include hiring a men's tennis coach for next year, which Ward hopes will happen in June, as well as planning for the athletic department's celebration of 40 years of women in athletics. However, Ward sees the department's emphasis on building student athletes' character as its greatest responsibility.
"No one at Bowdoin will be defined in their life by their athletic accomplishments at the College," Ward said. "They were simply a part of their lives, and if we can help them aspire and communicate better and be stronger, better people, then that's our goal—that's where I hope to be."